Financing is certainly one of the largest obstacles facing organizations like Veterans Emergency Transition Services in their attempts to provide supportive housing. However, another significant barrier is Not In My Backyard – which, if not properly managed by planners, can quickly become a make or break game for similar groups attempting to assist our most vulnerable.
In 2013, I undertook a housing feasibility study for VETS… and it demonstrated that a lack of equity is at the root of the financial issues. This type of partnership approach holds promise in providing transitional solutions.
Salvation Army, VETS combine for quick action in Halifax project
TOM AYERS THE CHRONICLE HERALD
No one seems to have a solid grasp on the size of the problem facing homeless veterans of the military or RCMP in Canada, but Jim Lowther has what he believes is the start of a solution.
Veterans Emergency Transition Services Canada — VETS Canada, the national organization Lowther founded with his wife Debbie in Halifax in 2010 — is partnering with the Salvation Army on a pilot project that will get homeless veterans and their families in Halifax immediately into temporary housing.
“We get them into transitional housing right away,” Lowther said. “Sometimes we’ll get a call come in and we’ll have a volunteer there in half an hour, literally helping the veteran.”
VETS Canada is leasing two apartment units from the Salvation Army at its Centre of Hope on Gottingen Street, and has already filled one of the units. The other is expected to be occupied shortly.
Veterans can stay for up to six months while officials with VETS Canada and the Salvation Army help them look for a more permanent solution.Federal estimates peg the number of veterans who used shelters in Canada last year at about 3,000.
However, the number of homeless vets is hard to pin down, Lowthe r said. His organization has already helped more than 2,000 across the country, and dealt with 193 requests for assistance in August alone.
The Salvation Army’s Centre of Hope is a men’s shelter with 46 beds and 16 apartment units offering a wide variety of services, including addictions counselling, help with emergency food and utilities, clothing and other supports.
VETS Canada follows the Housing First philosophy — adopted by the Halifax Housing and Homelessness Partnership and other aid organizations — which encourages support groups to place people in housing right away, instead of waiting until after they have received mental health or addictions treatment.
“We believe that you go in, you put a roof over their head and then you look at how you can assist them with whatever problem th ey have,” Lowther said.
“The services that we provide are peer support. We do a lot of the groundwork with the veterans. We’ll make sure that their needs are completely looked after.
“The Salvation Army, what they do is all of their services that they provide, the veteran gets those services too. So anywhere from addictions counselling to cooking classes.
“The wrap-around services that both of us provide are unbelievable, and it’s such a great help for veterans who are really struggling and are having a hard time. It is one of those things where if a veteran has a need, we try to fulfil it.”
VETS Canada is the designated service provider for Veterans Affairs Canada, which offers a counselling and referral service 24 hours a day at 1-800-268-7708, or f or the hearing impaired, 1-800-567-5803 (TDD).
The Royal Canadian Legion also offers funding and services to homeless vets through its Leave The Streets Behind program, which operates in all three territories and six provinces, including Nova Scotia.
It can be reached toll-free at 1-877-534-4666.
Sabina Pollayparambil, a spokeswoman for the Salvation Army’s Maritime Division, said both organizations work with Veterans Affairs, the Legion and other agencies involved in aid to the homeless in Halifax.
“There are a lot of homeless veterans,” she said. “We just want to make sure they’re taken care of, so if we are able to put aside two of the rooms, then we are happy to do so.”
Lowther said if fundraising is successful, he hopes the pilot project in Halifax can eventually be rolled out nationally.
“What we’re doing is exciting and it’s something that can be duplicated across the country,” he said. “We believe that everybody has a part to play in veterans’ homelessness and if organizations did come together — like we are with the Salvation Army, with a veteran-centric focus — I believe we could end homelessness for veterans. I really do.”